There is one thing I wonder most about head coach Matt Patricia as the Detroit Lions play out the last five games in what seems like competing in a cross-country ski race wearing snowshoes.
How is Patricia reacting internally away from the cameras and media sessions to being on a losing team for the first time in his professional football career?
Losing, and simply giving games away – as the Lions did again on Thanksgiving Day to the Chicago Bears – surely is a culture shock for Patricia after the 14 seasons he spent with the New England Patriots.
This week’s Monday Countdown looks at where the Lions stand with a 4-7 won-loss record with five games left. There are takeaways on offense and defense, a promising defensive stat, a look at key games in the last five and an item in ESPN about the Patriots that relates directly to the Lions.
We start with Matt Patricia:
1. Record reversal: This is not a psychological evaluation of the head coach, or a rating of how he has done his job. It’s just a question on how he’s handling a situation that is entirely counter to what he experienced in New England, where it was Super Bowl or nothing.
Consider the following:
The Patriots never had a losing record in the last 14 seasons, and they never had a three-game losing streak.
They finished first in the AFC East 13 times.
They missed the playoffs once – with an 11-5 record in 2008. That season, Matt Cassell took over at quarterback when Tom Brady went out for the season in the first quarter with a knee injury. The Patriots missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker.
They have played 31 playoff games in 13 seasons, won a first-round game 11 times and had a 21-10 won-loss record in the postseason. They played in the Super Bowl three of the last four years, winning it twice.
In the last six seasons, when Patricia was defensive coordinator, the Patriots won at least 12 games every year.
“I hate to lose,” he said in a session I had with him during the bye week.
I doubt that he plans on getting used to it.
Which brings us to No. 2:
2. Last five games: The finish is important for any coach, regardless of won-loss record. In Patricia’s case, it’s obvious that he has worked from the beginning to set a standard in his first year.
The offseason and training camp were tougher than in previous seasons. One man’s opinion: Patricia was trying to make a point with the outdoor practice on a snowy day before the Carolina game two weeks ago.
Players look for consistency from their leaders. Do I think Patricia will ease off on the throttle and coast home?
Not a chance. It’s not the culture he’s trying to establish. I also doubt that he would ever concede that the Lions can’t win the last five games to keep alive some slim hope of making the playoffs.
3. The grind: It’s been a long haul for Patricia, probably the longest of his coaching career. It started when the Patriots reported to training camp in July of 2017, with hardly a break since.
The Patriots’ season ended on Feb. 4, 2018, with a loss to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII. There were reports the next day that Patricia had reached an agreement to be the Lions’ head coach, and he was introduced at a press conference in Allen Park on Feb. 7.
That’s 18 months of long days and nights on the job, with scant time off.
Of course, he’d rather be in the playoffs and not have the season end on Dec. 30 in Green Bay.
4. Takeaways, offense:
Passing game: Stafford should not be absolved of blame for the two fourth-quarter interceptions. The first was returned for the game-winning touchdown. The second, in the end zone, ended the Lions’ last possession. Both passes were meant for tight end Michael Roberts, who had an eventfully unproductive day, especially on the pick in the end zone – and on a play earlier when the ball hit him in the helmet on a pass from Stafford.
Blount: Before Thursday’s game, LeGarrette Blount had carried 21 times for 16 yards in his previous four games. In the first half, he added eight yards on five carries. That’s 24 yards on 26 carries. Bench him in the second half? Bring in fresh legs? Anybody? All logical choices, but Blount stayed in and responded with 80 yards on 14 carries and his second TD of the game. Strange game, football.
Bruce Ellington: He’s had some production, with limited impact, since being signed by the Lions on Nov. 6. He’s played in the last two games and had six receptions in both – for 52 yards against Carolina and 28 against the Bears. It’s surprising that TJ Jones hasn’t done more with the opportunity created by the trade of Golden Tate and the injury to Marvin Jones Jr. TJ played 45 snaps with one catch in each of the last two games. That’s two catches in 90 snaps. The Lions are desperate for a receiver other than Kenny Golladay to make an impact play.
5. Takeaways, defense:
On the corner: Until proven otherwise, undrafted rookie Mike Ford out of Southeast Missouri State has moved ahead of Teez Tabor in the cornerback rotation. Against Chicago Ford played 51 snaps, the most of any cornerback behind starters Darius Slay and Nevin Lawson. Ford had six tackles, second most on the team, one tackle for loss and the only pass defensed by the Lions. Tabor was healthy and inactive.
Ziggy Ansah: He had another sack Thursday, his fourth in the five games he’s played. Ansah has played an even 100 snaps in the five games – an average of 20 per game – compared to his average of 36.5 last year when he had 12 sacks in 14 games. It would be a mistake to assume he isn’t worth having back next year, at some level.
Snacks: What else would a defensive tackle nicknamed “Snacks” do except feast on opposing runners and quarterbacks on Thanksgiving Day? Damon “Snacks” Harrison had 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss.
6. Snacks and run stats: Harrison has made an impact in the five games he has played since being acquired in a trade with the Giants. The run defense has become the strongest part of the defense, and perhaps of the entire team.
The Lions have given up 138 yards on the ground in the last three games, with a long gain of 10 yards twice. It’s far different than early in the season, when in three of the first four games the Lions were blitzed for 160, 190 and 183 yards on the ground in losses to the Jets, 49ers and Cowboys.
It’s one area where Patricia’s impact can be seen. The gaps have tightened up, and runners aren’t getting outside. Harrison’s presence has made a difference, and so has the development of two young linemen, Da’Shawn Hand and A’Shawn Robinson.
7. Schedule, last 5: The Lions get back from their mini-break today to prepare for Sunday’s home game against the Rams. It might be their toughest game of the season, given the Rams’ firepower on offense and defense that has produced a 10-1 record. Plus, they’re coming off a bye after their 54-51 win in the duel track meet with the Chiefs.
Two other tough games: Home vs. the Vikings on Dec. 23, and the season finale at Green Bay.
It would be a mood-lifter to win either of those two games, but the two that should be must-wins are back-to-back road games in Weeks 14-15 against Arizona and Buffalo.
8. Patriots boost: In a notes column posted Sunday morning before the Patriots game against the Jets, ESPN beat writer Mike Reiss posed the question of who would be considered the Patriots’ most important offensive player. His choice: Rookie running back Sony Michel, in part to take some of the load off Brady.
Michel missed three of the first 10 games. He had 453 yards rushing and four TDs going into the last six games.
Rookie running back helping a veteran QB?